So here we sit.
We’re just beyond the half way point. We’ve seen a litany of rookies make their debut. Some we scarcely met before sending them back or in some cases even moving on for good. Others shocked us by becoming a factor worth fearing in the NL Central who started out as an emergency stopgap, and now might be the shiniest object to point to if you want to say in some aspect this club absolutely identified talent with Jack Suwinski.
So here I sit, in a hotel room in San Francisco, writing about the incredibly interesting team that is your 2022 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Where should I start? The Draft? The Trade Deadline? Maybe all the moves? For once this whole “5 Thoughts” thing is feeling really limiting.
1. Ok, So I’ve Digested the Roansy Thing
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here so let’s just state some facts in no particular order, and in no way meant to lead you to any conclusion. Just the facts to decide from for yourself… well, at least for a minute here.
Facts: 1. It was clear from the beginning of the season, that Roansy Contreras was ready to pitch in the big leagues. 2. Knowing how low his ultimate inning limit was going to be, the Pirates knowingly had him throw 20.1 innings in AAA instead. 3. They could have put him on the IL with a “tired arm”, thereby saving his arm for a few weeks, and also allowing him to accrue service time and MLB pay.
He only threw 61 innings total last season. Didn’t pitch at all in 2020 and went through some elbow issues last year as well.
It makes sense why the Pirates want to pump the brakes here. It really does. I even like doing it now. Over the All Star Break is the right time. You don’t want to stop him from pitching near the end of the season either really. It’s important to see him not sit idle for 1 or 2 months longer than everyone else and need to get him on schedule is there too.
Now, that’s all the shiny happy stuff.
The darker side of course is that this also will very likely make him eligible for Super 2. If you’re tired of hearing about this stuff, fine, stop at the happy stuff. It’s all true too, but I can accept the business side of the game for what it is. And no, that doesn’t mean I love it or root for the owners or some stupid platitude, it just means knowing it won’t make it go away.
Moral of the story, he’ll be back, if the Pirates can save a few bucks, or get an extra year out of someone, they’re gonna, just as sure as I’m dumb enough to drive 15 miles out of my way to use a coupon.
2. Rotation Taking Shape?
I’ll often hear So and so isn’t part of a winning team here. Or, he’s a number 5 at best! Well, I don’t look at a rotation like that. I don’t slot guys 1 through 5, I just decide who my “best” 5 are and then I pick my best 5 that could be called on if need be.
For instance, next season the Pirates will likely show up to Spring Training with Roansy Contreras, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Zach Thompson, Bryse Wilson, Cody Bolton, Michael Burrows, plus a couple free agents as options to start. Beyond that another wave of those who could help are Kyle Nicolas, Quinn Priester, Carmen Mlodzinski, and potentially some other AAA FA or Spring Training invites.
So, yes. To me, if I’m showing up to Spring and can easily name 5 guys I want to see get a shot, plus 5 more I think are close enough. Yes, I’ll call that taking shape a bit.
I’d like to see the Pirates get aggressive here. Go after a guy like Pablo López, RHP, Marlins, he’s 26, under team control through 2024, and they are actively looking for prospects, specifically position player prospects. This is the type of deal we don’t think about often enough, but the Pirates in my mind are more likely to get quality and experience without competing in a market they simply aren’t going to swim in. This cold cost you a Swaggerty, or a Bae, maybe even both. That’s how important pitching is, and how the team needs to start seeing it.
And sure they want Bryan Reynolds, that doesn’t mean they won’t accept help in another form. The Marlins are pitching rich, but position player poor. Polar opposite from the Pirates. You must keep in mind that they have need to move players, if only to make room for the next group they have on the way.
One last thing, don’t get hung up on the two names I mentioned. I get how invested many get in these prospects and just mentioning their names doesn’t mean I’m gunning for them to be moved, I’m just trying to describe the level of give in order to get.
Bottom line, they can see if they can get lucky 3 times in a row signing a vet to a one year deal, or they can work to find a way to get their hands on someone who can at least act as a bridge. Less in and out and more in for a minute, then out.
3. We Talk About What They’ve Done Wrong, but What About the Things They’ve Done Right?
It’s easy to allow the Pirates errors to overtake anything good they do. For instance, I’ve probably spent more time talking about how poor the team handled the catching position than any single other decision they’ve made this year. Let’s take a little time talking about some of the things they’ve done that we can actively put in the “good call” column.
Daniel Vogelbach – Well, let’s start here, with nothing more than his bat since he’s almost 100% a DH, Daniel has built up a 0.7 WAR figure. He has 12 homeruns, 32 RBI, an OPS of .798. He’s quite honestly been a really good DH. The Pirates signed him for what amounts to just above league minimum. On top of that he has a team option to return next season for just about the same, if they don’t move him. Bottom line, the team was right about what they thought he could provide, and many of us were wrong.
Mitch Keller – The team loved what they saw from Mitch after the lockout and after watching him for a little over a month, decided it was time to step in and explore adding a 2-seam fastball. Mitch hasn’t completely eliminated his 4 seam to implement this pitch, but he has added it and brought along some much needed movement to his arsenal. I give them credit for this because he’s first of all one of the more important players they could unlock, and second, he didn’t exactly do himself favors or earn repeated attempts to unlock him. Long way to go here, but if Mitch finishes 2022 with what you’d consider a positive body of work, well, it’ll sure be nice to feel he’s an anchor in 2023 instead of yet another year of hoping he figures it out. Just in time too, he finally costs some money in 2023.
Jack Suwinski – Listen, I’ve always liked the way Jack has looked up here. He’s always looked like he was engaged and played hard, but I’m also not going to sit here and pretend I was ok with just continuing to play him when he was hitting .188. I still think his contact numbers are a bit of an overlooked issue, but now he’s got the average up to .206, he’s hit 14 homeruns, some of them in leverage situations. He’s worked his way to a 1.7 WAR and an OPS of .736. I was wrong, the Pirates were right. Jack is for real, and patience was the right approach.
Jose Quintana – When the Pirates signed him to a one year 2 million dollar deal, my immediate comment was it was about 7 years too late. Dead wrong. He’s already given the Pirates 85 innings, and done it with an ERA of 3.59 ERA in his 17 starts. Remarkable really, not that I was wrong, that happens plenty, he’s done this this with very little up and down. Steady, sure, and the ability to put the team in a position to win even when he wasn’t on top of his game.
So yes, these and others like them don’t cancel out the Yoshi’s or Chang’s, but the Chavis’ and Castillo’s that don’t get mentioned count too. Criticizing is far easier than praising, at least for this fan base, because every time you mention they’ve done something well, you cringe and remember there’s this other poopy thing they’re doing at the same time.
4. What Will the Pirates Do with Kevin Newman?
I said before the season I thought this would one way or another be Kevin Newman’s last as a Pirate. I still might be right, but we’ve learned half a season worth of stuff since then, let’s see if that’s changed anything.
First, Kevin was hurt most of the season, so if anything what we got was an extended audition from those who look to take his spot on the roster. Diego Castillo, Tucupita Marcano, Oneil Cruz, Josh VanMeter, Rodolfo Castro, and even Michael Chavis. All middle infielders who’ve gotten a shot, and now Newman is back getting another opportunity at 2nd base.
He makes the league minimum but next year he will make some money in arbitration. Not enough to give you heartburn, but enough that a decision is forced. The Pirates also have Liover Peguero and likely Nick Gonzales at least taking some playing time in 2023 along with many of the names I just listed up there.
So how can Kevin save his job?
It’s really that simple, if Kevin Newman hits, he’ll find his way into another stint with the Pirates. Nobody else took it, just showed they were capable, but stopped short of locking it down. Cruz has SS for now, so second base is the place to focus and Kevin’s ability to play both is attractive. None of it matters if he can’t hit.
In fact even if he does hit, I see him as a damn near lock to get moved at the 2023 deadline just from being pushed aside. If he were healthy this year, I think there might be more pressure to either have made a decision on him or try to move him at the deadline this year. Because he was injured, he didn’t get to show what he could do, and even if you think you know, we did get the opportunity to see what the other possibilities had, and at best it’s a wash. For now.
If someone wants him this year, I think they’ll move him. I just don’t see a whole lot of takers and he might just show enough that the team can’t find a path to let him walk for nothing.
Just an interesting thought process on this one player as we approach the deadline.
5. Third Place Seems Likely
The Pirates as we sit here are 36-50 2 games up on the Cubs, 4 games up on the Reds, 11.5 out of first.
This isn’t a playoff year, but it is a year where the Pirates will climb out of the cellar. The Cubs are going to get worse after the deadline. They’ll be moving Wilson Contreras, and even if they stop there and don’t move Ian Happ, Kyle Hendricks and more, they won’t be returning MLB help, it’ll be for prospects.
The Reds are going to get worse, they’ll likely move Luis Castillo, and if anyone would willingly eat the contracts of Moustakas or Votto I’d bet them too. They have a young core of players and all in all the Reds path forward is muddied by their history. They could go right back out to the FA market next season and buy their way back into being competitive or they could just go into a bit of a slower walk for a season or two before jumping back in. Either way 2022 is likely to bottom out.
The Brewers and Cards will likely add, and improve, at least on paper to a degree.
The Pirates though, well they won’t move much of tremendous value. Quintana yes, that’ll hurt, but anyone else, well, for the most part you’re more than ready for them, for one reason or another and chances are a young player is ready to jump right back in.
Quintana will hurt, but it won’t hurt like a Contreras or Castillo move. I think the order of the division is very clear. Crew/Cards in tier 1, Pirates in the middle and Reds/Cubbies in the bottom.
Progress is progress.